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July 22, 2006

Review: Chance Witness by Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris is an interesting guy. A failed MP (by his own admission), followed by an inadvertantly successful journalist, his career trajectory's been quite odd, and his autobiography only occasionally refers to it. Instead, it's a brilliant read because of the bits inbetween.

With the (few) biographies I've read, I've usually tried skipping the start because the 'childhood memories' bit have been like watching paint dry. But Parris's childhood was very different, and so is his writing style.

Much of the book can be described as 'nice' without being derogatory. Parris seems acutely aware of the naivety of some of his actions, especially his visits to Clapham Common which ended up with him being beaten within an inch of his life. Similarly, writing Margaret Thatcher's correspondence provided plenty of holes for Parris to dig himself into, which he seemed to have no trouble in doing.

Parris is perhaps most infamous for 'outing' Peter Mandelson on Newsnight, much to the surprise of Mandelson's friend Jeremy Paxman. A lot of the book feels voyeuristic, with insights into the political underworkings that you rarely see, but without the boring self–obsession that you get from conventional politicians.

Chance Witness is probably the best biography I've read so far, and well recommended for anyone considering being in public life or in the public eye. Read it and you might avoid some of the many pitholes Parris fell into along his way.


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